(7335) 1989 JA.
That’s the name of the asteroid currently heading in our direction. It’s classified by NASA as a near-Earth object and it is expected to have its closest flyby on May 27, 2022. Wait … That’s today!
(7335) 1989 JA doesn’t roll easily on the tongue, so let’s call it Monkeyroid. Not because it has any scientific value, nor is it a public name. I just made it up. Monkeyroid is just something we will call it here in this blog post, because why not. The world is going mad and we can name stuff as we want, as long as it’s not intentionally offensive. So, we’re going with Monkeyroid.
Today, Monkeyroid is passing by Earth at a distance of “only” 4 million km. For comparison, the Moon is located ~400,000 km away from us, so when Monkeyroid passes by it will be 10 times further away than the Moon. With a diameter of 1 km Monkeyroid is measuring as one of the largest asteroids in our solar system. On it’s current trajectory, it will pass us in a safe distance, but because of its size and the proximity to planet Earth, it has the potential to do enormous damage, should it get knocked out of its current path and unexpectedly steer towards Earth. NASA has labelled it as “near-Earth” because it will fly by at a distance smaller than 45 million km. NASA tracks almost 30,000 asteroids with this label each year, so we can rest assured that all uninvited space guests are monitored before they knock on our door.
The Asteroid Belt – A Rocky “River” In The Solar System
Monkeyroid is an asteroid, and all asteroids originate from the Asteroid Belt. All objects in the Asteroid Belt are called asteroids and they are remnants from the creation of the Sun almost 5 billion years ago. In fact, everything in the solar system is created from all the excess gas and dust that remained after the Sun was done eating what it needed to grow to its current size.
The Asteroid Belt is located between Mars and Jupiter. This area is not only home to all asteroids, it also makes up the transition line between the four inner rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) and four the outer gas planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).
Almost all asteroids are found in the main belt, as illustrated above. Some asteroids have drifted a bit and are now comfortably floating in Jupiter’s Lagrange points 4 and 5. A Lagrange point is a gravitational point where objects are “trapped” by gravity. As an example, the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope is also hanging in a stable Lagrange point. The asteroids that have drifted to these two Lagrange points are classified as Trojans, and they appear 60 degrees behind and in front of Jupiter.
The last group of asteroids are the ones that have strayed off the main belt and are within Earth’s vicinity. This type is not pictured in the illustration above. These asteroids are called near-Earth, even though NASA’s definition of near spans to 45 million km. That is roughly 1/3 of the distance from here to the Sun.
Shapes And Sizes Of Asteroids
Monkeyroid has a diameter of around 1 km. According to official data it means that this asteroid is larger than 99% of asteroids out there. The sizes of asteroids vary a lot. The smallest asteroids are around a meter and the largest asteroid measures almost 1,000 km across.
Asteroids have weird shapes. They are not spherical like plants or the Moon. They have shapes like rocks you find in the forest. Pointy edges, round borders, a dent here and a peak there. They come in all shapes, just like us humans.
So far, more than a million(!) asteroids have been identified. One million. That is an astonishing amount of asteroids! But you know what is even more mind-blowing? They combined weight.
All asteroids in the Asteroid Belt (where almost all asteroids are located) combined weigh less than the Moon. They even weigh less than a tenth of the Moon! In fact, the entire belt is estimated to weigh only 3% of the Moon. THREE PERCENT!
This blows my mind, so let me end on that note.